Xolani Tshabalala, Postdoc, Institute for Research on Migration, Ethnicity and Society (REMESO), Linköping University

‘Ghost passports’: the logics of illegibility in the negotiation of movement across South Africa s border with Zimbabwe

‘Ghost passports’ are passports whose holders enlist the services of third parties, such as individual cross-border transport operators and regular bus drivers, to take them to various ports of entry (or border posts) to get them ‘stamped’ on their behalf. Ghost passports are found in many contexts, but this paper focuses on their use by low- and semi-skilled Zimbabwean migrants seeking work in South Africa. Lacking adequate financial resources or time to extend the duration of their stay, many Zimbabweans turn to the services of brokers who cajole immigration officers for extension stamps on ‘ghost’ (or holder-less) passports for a fee. The phenomenon of ghost passports inverts the lens often associated with undocumented travel. In this case, documents get to travel without their holders. By focusing on the tactics and techniques of facilitation, this paper will explore the role of documents both as commodities that move around, as well as a currency of irregular movement in their own right. Using the broker as the unit of analysis, the paper will examine the links between the facilitation of undocumented movement and the social politics of illegibility as characteristic of the transformative friction (after Bhabha, 1994) that shapes borders in neo-colonial, neoliberal Southern Africa.

Xolani Tshabalala has a PhD in Ethnicity from Linköping University (2017) in which he studied transnational informal livelihood practices across the South Africa - Zimbabwe border. Currently he is a postdoc at REMESO, Linköping University. His research interests include experiences of economic migration, informal livelihood strategies and embodiments of marginal citizenship.

All seminars in the series.